A sparse, but enthusiastic audience greeted ranks of players parading in to range round the hall, upstairs and down, conducted from the gallery by Glenn Price. Six superb trumpets created goose-bumps as opening fanfares rang out for The Sword and the Crown by Gregson. All from memory, this was history at its most imaginative.
There was time to inspect the huge wall-to-wall array of percussion instruments as the stage filled with immaculately-presented, eager musicians for Hesketh’s Masque, setting the scene for an evening of British music, with more medieval junketings. Sparkly neat syncopations were offset by unconvincing thick, dark textures, but nevertheless played with bravura.
Four lugubrious tubas introduced Holst’s long-winded Hammersmith, a turgid depiction of the Thames and more lively street-wise Cockneys – thankfully giving opportunities for bright woodwind solos to shine.
Solo clarinettist in Turnbull’s African Dances was David Campbell, frequently outshone by clever percussion writing depicting sinuous Saharan patterns on a variety of instruments, and often more riveting than the true solo line.
It was back to theatrical history with composer Woolfenden’s colourful Gallimaufry. Fun to play, including a beautifully plaintive cor anglais solo, tidy but not rigid chords, spot-on intonation and a splendiferous Hollywood ending.
A courtly Sarabande from Arnold could have been a notch quieter in this hall, but the playing was lovely.
More subtle organisation could have avoided much distracting wandering back and forth by percussionists in a hectic performance of Sparke’s The Year of the Dragon, trying to use every percussion instrument in the book mainly to good effect.
It was heart-warming to hear such commitment from all of these young players.